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February 20, 2009

Fantasy Beat

Shortstops

by Marc Normandin

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We're moving right along with the infield rankings, this time turning our attention to shortstop, a strange position that can be approached on draft day in much the same way as second base. The position is broken up into three separate tiers, with a few players who will likely be selected within the first two rounds, a handful of players with less value but who are still worthwhile investments, and then the second half of the list, which is mostly made up of very similar players that you can sit back and wait on.

Basically, if you miss out on one of the big guys at the position, you'll want to focus your attention elsewhere rather than pick a shortstop just because everyone else has theirs selected. The reasons will become clear once I explain the rankings.

In order to make these rankings, I used the 2009 weighted-mean PECOTA projections as a base, and tweaked the results as I saw fit. This isn't a descending list of projected 2009 VORP by any means. Make sure you check out the players' 75th- and 25th-percentile forecasts on their PECOTA cards, as those may help you to make decisions between players you might be debating over.

Since this keeps coming up in the comments, I want to say here that I am ranking the players at their primary position; if you don't see a player here, it's because he's either not good enough or because he's been ranked at a different position. This allows me to cover more players for those of you in deeper leagues.


Rank Name             Team       PA   R   HR RBI  SB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Beta
 1.  Hanley Ramirez   Marlins   696  128  28  95  36  .318/.399/.548  0.82
 2.  Jose Reyes       Mets      718  126  16  76  68  .309/.374/.478  0.79
 3.  Jimmy Rollins    Phils     656  102  16  68  37  .293/.360/.458  0.91
 4.  Stephen Drew     D'backs   608   80  20  77   6  .278/.342/.470  0.90
 5.  J.J. Hardy       Brewers   621   78  21  79   2  .284/.344/.459  0.83
 6.  Troy Tulowitzki  Rockies   521   68  15  66   4  .283/.356/.452  0.94
 7.  Rafael Furcal    Dodgers   469   68   7  46  17  .290/.363/.406  0.88
 8.  Derek Jeter      Yankees   599   78   6  56  13  .288/.353/.383  0.85
 9.  Ryan Theriot     Cubs      582   81   1  40  21  .283/.359/.350  1.05
10.  Cristian Guzman  Nats      625   87   8  70  10  .323/.361/.455  0.96

If you played in a fantasy league that just used VORP or something like it as your only statistic, then Hanley Ramirez would be a clear favorite over Jose Reyes. There is more gray area to work with in fantasy baseball though, as these two are about as close as can be; ranking one of them over the other is a reflection of your drafting style as much as it's a view of who you think is the superior player. For my own drafts, I tend to find stolen bases here and there, rather than over-drafting for the one statistic. Jose Reyes is not an example of over-drafting, thanks both to positional scarcity at shortstop and his fantastic skill set, but Ramirez does more of the things that I look for in my early picks just a little bit better, so I have him first. If you're a speed guy and prefer Reyes, I can see your reasoning, but that's not how I approach the draft.

Rollins does some of the things that the two players in front of him do-he's as capable of stealing as Ramirez, and he has similar or better power than Reyes according to PECOTA-which is enough to slot him in right behind those two fantasy monsters. You might be wondering why PECOTA thinks we'll see more of the 2008 Rollins rather than the 2007 version that slugged .531. The 2007 season is the lone campaign in which Rollins was able to jump his fly-ball rate above the average, and when combined with the home-run boost he added the year prior (his HR/FB jumped from 6.3 percent in 2005 to 11.1 percent in 2006) it's easy to see why he hit 30 homers. In 2008 though, his fly-ball rate dipped back down towards the area we're used to seeing from him-in fact, Rollins posted a career high G/F ratio of 1.5-in addition to having his HR/FB percentage drop back to its pre-'06 levels. We may see a bump back up in either of those two categories or both, but given that he's past his peak, I wouldn't go out expecting another 2007 season to occur. Whether you think he's going to be that guy again or the one PECOTA has listed, he's clearly the third-best shortstop.

Stephen Drew and J.J. Hardy have a similar statistical profile. PECOTA thinks they're going to post similar lines, get driven in at the same rate, and drive in around the same number of runners. I think Drew has a bit more upside; I like his power better (he plays in a hitter's park and slugged .502 with a .211 ISO last season) and he also tore up the league in the second half of the year by hitting .326/.372/.556. His BABIP during that time was high at .366, but you could probably guess that the .326 batting average wouldn't last. Even if you chop that down to around .290, that's still a .290/.340/.520 shortstop, which, if you don't care for Rollins' steals, could even move Drew to third on your list.

Troy Tulowitzki had a rough go of things in 2008, hitting .263/.332/.401 for the year. After his .166/.246/.298 line in the first half though, finishing where he did has to be considered a success of sorts. While I'm not convinced that he'll carry on the .327 batting average he sustained throughout the second half of last year, he's at least as good as his projection, if not better. I would like to more success against right-handers (.264/.333/.414 from 2007-2008) before I move him up any further in the rankings though, and an increase in his consistency on the road would be nice.

Rafael Furcal and Derek Jeter are no longer in that range where you need to jump out and draft them early; they aren't as reliable with the bat as they used to be, and they've both lost some speed on the basepaths. I have Furcal ahead of Jeter because I think his forecast is a little low. He showed that he could still hit last year, and that 2007 had more to do with dealing with injury than an inability to slap the ball around the diamond. I just don't think he's going to hit .357/.439/.573 again, or anything close to it. Between the ridiculous .380 BABIP and the 164 plate-appearance sample size, you shouldn't expect Furcal to repeat last year's performance over the long term.

Deciding whether to stop rushing to pick shortstops before or after Furcal depends on how much faith you have in him to be more like his '06 self than his '09 projection, because the production falls off after that point on the list, and it falls hard. I can hardly believe that I'm ranking Ryan Theriot in a top ten for shortstops, but here we are-welcome to the state of the shortstop position in 2009. The main attraction with Theriot is that he can post a solid OBP, and he hits in a very good lineup. He'll also steal a few bases for you, but don't expect any help with your power numbers at all.

I've received a few questions about Cristian Guzman's having the third-highest VORP forecast among shortstops. If you look at his last few years, it's easy to see why PECOTA thinks he's this good. Guzman was terrible beyond words in 2005, he missed all of '06, and he collected just 174 plate appearances in '07, though he did hit .328/.380/.466 in that time. He then put together a solid year for a shortstop in 2008, hitting .316/.345/.440 over 579 plate appearances. Since it bases its projections on the past three years of data, PECOTA is working with those last 753 plate appearances. I have no qualms in believing Guzman can match his forecast-he's hit that line the past two years, which is why he has that projection in the first place-but I don't agree that Guzman will have that line in 2009, but with the PECOTA cards released, a look at his 25th percentile to see if it's either far off is still pretty promising (.308/.344/.425).


Rank Name             Team       PA    R  HR RBI  SB   AVG/ OBP/ SLG  Beta
11.  Jhonny Peralta   Indians   629   72  19  78   4  .261/.327/.425  0.89
12.  Khalil Greene    Cards     514   56  17  64   5  .245/.306/.421  0.87
13.  Miguel Tejada    Astros    536   61  10  63   5  .288/.331/.416  0.84
14.  Yunel Escobar    Braves    548   66   6  53   5  .287/.357/.387  1.06
15.  Michael Young    Rangers   539   64   8  55   7  .279/.334/.393  1.02
16.  Mike Aviles      Royals    544   60  12  62   6  .268/.309/.409  0.95
17.  Edgar Renteria   Giants    497   59   8  51   7  .276/.332/.391  1.10
18.  Jed Lowrie       Red Sox   414   50   9  49   3  .260/.341/.432  1.07
19.  Brendan Harris   Twins     508   55  11  59   3  .263/.328/.401  0.98
20.  Jason Bartlett   Rays      480   54   4  35  16  .257/.310/.345  0.88

Many of the players begin to look very similar below the top ten, so there won't be as much detail for these fellows. Base the value that you assign to these players on what it is you still need for your team, be it steals, batting average, or power. Jhonny Peralta has frequent bursts of solid output, but his PECOTA line seems about right for a whole season's worth of playing time. With the low expectations for production at this stage, he's still useful. Khalil Greene will be drafted for his power, though you need to remember that the forecast above is for San Diego; except for 2008, where he fell apart everywhere, he's always been a masher on the road (he slugged .519 during away games in '07) and a victim of Petco (just .412 that same season at home). [Ed. note: In BP2K9, you'll find that Greene is projected to hit .253/.313/.434 with the Cardinals, with 18 home runs and 69 RBI.]

Miguel Tejada isn't the shortstop he used to be, but thanks to his former standing and the lack of talent at the position, he's still good for the 13th slot in the rankings. He doesn't excel in any particular statistic, but he won't hurt you too much either. I like Yunel Escobar more than most; last year I saw a young hitter starting to put together better strike-zone judgment, one who added more patience and more power potential to his game. We'll see if those things come together in 2009.

Michael Young is sliding over to third base this year, but he's essentially of no use there thanks to his lack of power. His forecast is close to last year's performance as well, so it's tough to argue with it. His BABIP was lower than it normally is, but so was his liner rate; if that bumps back up he'll post a better batting average, which may knock him up a rank or two. PECOTA doesn't like Mike Aviles, but I do; I just don't .325/.354/.480 like him, but I do .290/.320/.440 like him. Aviles' 75th-percentile forecast is .282/.324/.438, which reflects why understanding PECOTA does what it does is so important. If you don't have faith in Young getting those line drives back, bump Aviles up ahead of him.

Edgar Renteria should improve some by moving to the National League, but don't expect him to turn back into the star hitter that he was for the Braves a few years ago. He still struggles against right-handers, and the park he's moving to is not a hitter's friend. I have no idea where PECOTA is wishcasting that power from for Lowrie, as he hit .258/.339/.400 (that's a .142 ISO) in 2008, and he was over his head at that. He struck out over 26 percent of the time, far too often for a guy with his middle-infielder's lack of pop, and he only hit .258 because he smacked so many liners. This ranking is all PECOTA's doing, and it also says something about the way that the rest of this list looks. I mean, someone has to rank 18th before I can get to 19th, right?

Harris and Bartlett should only get looks in deep AL-only leagues. Bartlett will nab you more steals, and Harris is probably going to be in a better spot in the order. I hope none of you get stuck taking them at some point due to injuries or poor planning.

As for the "Just Missed" guys this time around, we've got a few names to look at in Cincinnati. Alex Gonzalez didn't make this list for two reasons, as he's not very good and may not keep a hold on the position all summer. He's the fifth-highest rated shortstop on his own team by forecasted VORP, behind guys who might steal his playing time, like Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jeff Keppinger. Keep an eye on that positional battle, because if either of those two grabs the job, they would be better than a few guys on this list.

PECOTA has turned on Brandon Wood completely, and though I've been far from his biggest fan since the hype train left the station, I think ignoring him completely would be a mistake given the lack of depth at this position. If he wins the job, he's worth a late pick just incase, but make sure you have another option; PECOTA thinks he'll hit .227/.293/.417 this year. Orlando Cabrera is jobless, but if he picks up a gig somewhere, he will have more use than Lowrie and company at the back end of this list. Also, remember that Alexei Ramirez, who also qualifies at second due to last year, is the new shortstop in Chicago. If you need a shortstop and can grab another second baseman, I may go so far as to put Ramirez in between Tulowitzki and Furcal in the rankings.

21 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: ... (02/20)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Third Ba... (02/16)
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